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An unexpected stop in Phoenix, Arizona

January 13, 2010

(Note: this post is out of chronological order. I wrote this earlier and wanted to get it posted. Eventually I’ll number the posts so you can follow from start to finish)

I left San Diego early in the morning heading east towards Arizona. I figured on riding about 400-500 miles today. It had been a great week in San Diego. I enjoyed my visit, and for once the weather was beautiful.

Most of today’s ride would be on Route 8 East across Arizona and into New Mexico. You might not think hour after hour of rock and sand would be interesting, but it was.

I recall a gradual climb into the mountains from San Diego and for a few hours I had the roads to myself. I like these occasional days of empty highways. It’s always great to have the road to yourself, relax and think. I think the best therapy in the world is a big motorcycle, the open road, and the horizon. After the last year I needed all the therapy I could get.

After my engagement and subsequent un-engagement, my friends comforted me with “just be thankful it happened now and not after you were married”. How would I know? I never had the chance. They were, most likely, right. I spoke to a good friend the other evening and he is in the final stages of his divorce and the wreckage is significant.

Usually, if I’m runing thoughts like those down on the motorcycle, I can almost always adjust my mood by clicking my left foot down twice and twisting my right hand all the way to the stop.

The desolation kept me worrying about finding gas so I kept cecking the GPS to see how far away the next gas station was. I decided to run down to no less than a ¼ tank before finding a refill. Near Anza-Borrego Desert State Park I began to see more and more green and white Border Patrol vehicles. It’s so remote out there I remember thinking “hey, if they can get across here – let them”.

The black line in the right corner of the picture below is the infamous US/Mexico border fence. You have to be kidding me. What a gigantic waste of time and money. I’m sure there are arguments on both sides of the gigantic fence.  You have to see it for yourself to see how futile it is. A serious border would have miles of land mines, barb wire, guard towers – you ge the idea.

What is this – East Germany? Border Patrol inspection stations INSIDE the USA? There were several along the route –some open and others closed. I rolled to a stop at the first one and was asked “Are you a U.S. Citizen?” I nodded and was waved through. After the second or third Checkpoint Charlie, I left the bike in gear and the dark smoked visor down, just nodded and kept rolling – just to see if I could get a reaction. None.  I find that at border crossings motorcycles don’t seem to invite much curiosity from officials. Maybe it’s because we can’t carry enough illegal goods. Who knows.

After several hours the scenery started to change from hills and vast valleys of sand and rock to more orderly plots of farmland. I don’t know what they were growing but I’m certain without outside water none of this would have existed. Route 8 is so long that I began to recognize the same cars and trucks. We would pass each other and be passed again after stopping for fuel or a rest stop.

I was thirsty and took the Dateland, Arizona exit to try a fantastic Date milkshake. A Date milkshake? Yeah, there were billboards for miles advertising these fantastic culinary delights. I rolled into the parking lot and shut the Futura off. The parking lot was made more interesting by what was apparently an attempt at creating a Star Trek themed building shaped like the Enterprise spaceship. Sorry but I don’t have a picture of this thing. I’m not sure why, but you have to trust me on this one. It was very weird. At least I have proof of the Milkshake.

In a word, it was…… DISGUSTING. I drank about a gallon of water to get the taste out of my mouth and hopped back on the bike to make the push towards Phoenix.

I headed for the exit ramp and twisted the throttle. The bike appeared to jump out of gear and made a clunking sound before recovering and smoothly accelerating away.  I thought maybe I missed second and got a false neutral – something. The bike accelerated fine and I heard no other weird noises, the temperature gauge was OK, so I ignored it and kept riding.  I passed a guy riding a Harley for the third time and we gave each other a wave and he disappeared into the distance.

Approaching Phoenix, I saw a motorcycle on the side of the road with the rider was trying to walk it down the highway. I hit the brakes and pointed my bike towards the side of the road. I promised myself that I would return the favor if I had the chance. (See an earlier post when a pair of Kansas Harley riders saved me in the middle of nowhere).

I pulled past the rider and parked my bike. It turns out it was the same Harley guy from a few hours ago. He must have passed me again when I stopped to mess with the I-Pod. He was out of fuel. I asked if I could help and he said “I’ll be just fine, it ain’t that far” and thanked me for stopping. With the gas station so apparently close I said OK and got back on the Aprilia.

The gas station that looked so close from where he had been pushing his bike now seemed to be at least two miles away. “Screw this” I thought, I’m not leaving until I can help this guy and pulled into the gas station. In the store I could not find anything to put gas into so I walked back to the bike, reluctantly pulled out my Nalgene water bottle. Maybe it will rinse out I thought. The guy was dumbfounded to see me again. I handed him the fuel and said I would go back and forth as many times as necessary to get him going. He said one should be more than enough and his bike started on the first try. I waited until I saw him roll up to the pumps before riding past, waving, and heading towards Phoenix.

I was glad for the opportunity to help someone. From now on, I’ll always pull over for a biker in need. That settled, I rode up the on ramp and merged with rush hour traffic. I gave the bike some gas and it seemed to jump out of gear AGAIN! This was no random occurrence and it worried me. Broken gearbox? Left handed smoke shifter broken? Flux capacitor empty? Who knows? I hit the next exit outside of Phoenix, and rode into a parking lot. I climbed off and put the bike on the center stand.

The rear sprocket was totally gone. How was this possible? The chain and front and rear sprockets were practically new having been replaced less than 5000 miles ago. I had lubed and adjusted the chain the night before and did not recall seeing anything like this.

Thankfully, Phoenix was where I had planned to have my rear tire replaced at The Ducati Superstore and had ordered a new rear a couple of weeks prior. My rear tire was so flattened from all those miles that I could practically balance the bike on it. I crashed that at another La Quinta. I rode about 360 miles that day.

The next morning I gingerly rode to the dealer, and the service manager and I took a look at the damage. At this point I was in denial thinking (quite stupidly) that they could just “take a link out of the chain” and I would run it tighter for another 1,200 miles until I got to Texas. I now know this was just about suicidal decision making. I spent most of the day waiting for my turn in the service bay. I spent my time wandering around the shop, reading motorcycle magazines, and trying to figure out what the hell I was going to do.

The bike was still sitting outside at 2:00. I called a friend who confirmed my being an idiot for wanting to try to ride the bike for even another ten feet. This was also confirmed by several members on the Aprilia Forum (thank you!). Long story short, there was nothing to be done except replace the chain and sprockets. Fantastic, now it’s after two on a Friday afternoon. I called AF1 Racing, an Aprilia dealer in New Braunfels, Texas. They had the parts and could get them to me on Saturday but it would not be cheap. Considering I would have to stay in hotels for a bunch more days until the parts arrived by regular UPS, I decided to go for FedEx Saturday delivery.

I found an affordable Hampton Inn three miles away and carefully rode there. The funny thing about this Hampton Inn is that it was in downtown Phoenix and located in the center of a gigantic medical complex (St. Joseph’s). The hotel lobby looked like an ER. There were people wandering around with IV bags, oxygen and wheelchairs. Apparently the hotel was used for folks just out of the hospital as sort of a middle step before going home. Riding a motorcycle, hospitals of course, scare the hell out of me. It was a very strange experience.

The next morning I was sitting at the front door when they unlocked the doors. I wanted to be fixed and gone today. Having so much time to think over the last two days I decided to switch from the Michelin Pilot Road 2CT tires to the more sport oriented Michelin Pilot Power 2CT tires. The Pilot Roads were fantastic tires and lasted over ten thousand miles but I wanted to try something else. Right on time the delivery guy showed up with the sprockets and they immediately went into the service bay. (By the way I want to go out of my way to thank everyone at the Ducati Superstore in Phoenix.  Everyone went out of their way to make me comfortable and help to get me back on the road  The service techs are fantastic and I highly recommend this place for any long riders in need of service.  They’ll sell you a bike too.)  This picture shows the bad sprocket and chain.

I thought the front sprocket (the smaller) one looked pretty good compared to the rear. I’ve since learned that it is equally wasted.

Progress! The new chain and sprockets are on. The bodywork is installed and the new tires are ready to go.

By noon I was on the road heading through the mountains towards White Sands, New Mexico.

I was breaking in the new tires when I met this gentleman. Thankfully he just wanted to talk bikes and not ticket me for doing 65 in a 45.

I rode and rode through the empty desert and into darkness. As usual, I was the only thing on the road for quite a while. It was getting colder and I really was in the middle of nowhere. I needed to find a place for the night, so I dialed up the closest town on the GPS and set a course for Lordsburg, New Mexico. Forty five dollars later I was sitting in a lonely Quality Inn. Looking out the window there were only three other vehicles in the parking lot and a beautiful full moon over the desert. It was October, 31 – Halloween night.


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